The Hammersley family run a dairy-beef system that sees predominantly Friesian bull calves brought through to beef as steers at either 22 or 28 months old.

All calves are sourced from the one farm each year, which helps reduce the disease risk with purchasing calves. Once reared, calves are turned out to grass as soon as conditions allow.

JP has had a number of calf huts made that he places strategically in the fields in spring, so that calves have a decent amount of shelter no matter where they are grazing on the farm.

A calf hutch that is placed out in spring to provide shelter to calves at grass

Calves are castrated at around six months old. Only the lightest batch of calves will continue to get meal throughout the first season at grass.

The majority are on grass only from mid-June through to the end of September. Average daily gains for these animals averaged 0.9kg/day this summer.

In order to achieve this level of gain, JP puts a strong emphasis on grassland management.

The ex-dairy farm extends to 34.7ha and has an excellent paddock system and farm roadways running through the spine of the farm, which all help JP to make best use of >11t DM/ha of grass grown on the farm each year.

The calf hutch can be moved with the tractor and loader.

Soil fertility is very good on the farm, with pH optimal on most parts, while JP is working on increasing some areas of the farm where P and K indices are low.

To do this, he is targeting more slurry to these areas, as well as using some compound fertiliser, as recommended through his nutrient management plan.

Improving performance

Over the past number of years, the farm has improved both physical and financial performance through improved technical efficiencies on farm.

In 2018, the farm had a net margin/ha of -€213/ha, while in 2021 the farm is set to make €451/ha net margin (all figures exclude farm payments).

It was noted that perhaps 2018 was not a fair reflection on the farm, as drought had resulted in extra feed purchased in that year.

The 2019 performance saw the farm breakeven before farm payments and in the last two years things have really kicked on.

JP puts a lot of this down to the performance of the calf in the first season at grass. Calves were housed last winter at 279kg, some 30kg ahead of target. It has seen the system transform from having a turnout weight in spring from 275kg four years ago to 354kg in 2021.

Finishing system

Towards the end of the summer, all finishing cattle are weighed and from here JP decides whether they will be finished off grass at 22 months old or wintered, turned out to grass in spring and finished at 28 months old.

Grassland management is excellent on the farm, with stock moved daily to fresh pasture.

The cattle that are housed for the winter get silage only during this period to minimise costs. They are finished off grass in May/June typically during a high beef price time of year.

They may or may not get concentrate at grass pre-slaughter depending on fat cover.

Another benefit of having these heavier animals on farm early in the grazing season is that it increases the demand for grass compared with systems that winter finish, where the heaviest animals going out to grass would be around 350kg.

This can make keeping on top of grass growth in May and June quite difficult.

Farm facts

  • 34.7ha farm.
  • 72 calves purchased in 2021.
  • All Friesian bull calves from one farm.
  • 22- to 28-month steer production.
  • €453/ha projected gross margin in 2021.